Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Five:
The Value of Action

There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life.


There are two primary benefits to action.

The first is obvious: if we don't do something, we're not going to get anything except "what comes our way," which may or may not be what we want. The second benefit: we make mistakes. Mistakes show us what we need to learn.

Many people read about the value of mistakes, say, "That makes sense," and then continue living their lives in the same avoid-mistakes-at-all-costs manner as before. They continue to play it safe, don't learn what they need to know, and then wonder why they're not much closer to their Dream.

"Men stumble over the truth from time to time," Winston Churchill wrote, "but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened." Mistakes indicate what we must study in order to have success. This "study" might be finding out more information, or it might mean more practice of what we already know. Either way, when we make a mistake, it's a golden arrow indicating, "Study this if you want success."

"From error to error," Freud said, "one discovers the entire truth."

People who aren't ready to welcome mistakes as the great aids to education they are, simply deny them. Instead of looking for mistakes so that they can learn more and do better, people ignore, filter, and flat-out deny mistakes.

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you're allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style.


All great people review their actions--even those actions that led to success--and ask themselves, "How could I have done this better?" It's known as critical thinking. We criticize our behavior so that we can do better next time.

Most people, however, improperly use their critical ability--they use it to find reasons for giving up. "I did so many things wrong. Why should I bother trying? I quit."

Of course we're going to do things wrong. We should be grateful that we have the ability to recognize wrong when we do it. The mediocre are satisfied with any old thing--and that's precisely what they wind up with.

You'll do better next time. As long as you're actively involved in pursuing your goal, there will always be a next time. If you're moving toward your Dream, opportunity doesn't just knock once--it will knock you down.

The process of learning can be summarized in four steps:

  1. ACT.



  4. GO TO 1.

Let Go of Distractions

First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your bad habits, or they'll eventually conquer you.


Distractions do not bring satisfaction. A distraction is anything not on the way to our goal that consumes our time, thoughts, or energy.

There are the obvious distractions--the physical bad habits and addictions people know are bad for them. There are the more subtle distractions--channel surfing, hanging out, aimlessly chatting on the phone. Then there are the distractions that appear to be wonderful--virtues, even--but are distractions, nonetheless.

This latter category is tricky. These actions are indisputably good for you and/or are good for others, but are not directly on the path to your goal. You could win a Nobel Prize for your charitable work, and, if your Dream were to be a pro golfer, all the charity work would, in fact, be a distraction.

Imagine that you are walking along a path. At the end of the path is your Dream. The way is clear, the goal is in sight. All you have to do is keep walking on your path till you reach your Dream.

Along the way, lining the path on either side, however, are distractions. It's their job to test you--to see if your goal is really the goal you want; to see if you are worthy of your Dream. The distractions can do anything they want to tempt you off your path: offer sex, food, fame, power, success in an area not part of your Dream, recognition, easy money--anything. What they cannot do is get on your path and stop you. Leaving the path is always your choice.

Pursue your Dream. Follow your path.

Follow Your Dream

The sun will set without thy assistance.


Your job is to fulfill your Dream.

It is not your job to right all the wrongs of the world, to teach everyone everything you know so that they will be able to right all the wrongs of the world, to become involved in any way with the struggle that always has been and probably always will be part of this planet, or anything else.

Your job is to fulfill your Dream.

If your Dream involves social or individual change, fine. Then saving part of the world is your business--but only part. If, for example, cleaner air is your passion, let someone else save the whales.

Areas of your concern--but not of your Dream--are the Dreams of others. Let them fulfill their Dreams. You fulfill yours. "Nature arms each man with some faculty which enables him to do easily some feat impossible to any other," wrote Emerson. If we each bring our separate dish (our Dream) to the table--even if it's "just" dessert--we can all enjoy the banquet.

We don't have to react to news or information that doesn't apply to our Dream. If we react to everything--including all the things other people think we should react to--we will have less mental and emotional energy to focus on our Dream.

If it's not on our path, it doesn't apply to us. Someone just died somewhere in Russia. Does that profoundly sadden you? Why not? Because it doesn't really apply to your life. It's a tragedy for someone, but not for you. The same is true of all the other events and incidents delivered by the media. This "news" is designed to keep those not on their path in a state of constant distraction.

Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.


Follow your Dream.

You need not give--or have--an opinion on every subject under the sun. "One of the lessons of history," wrote historian Will Durant, "is that nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say."

For those who prefer the scientific formula rather than the historical perspective, Albert Einstein: "If A is success in life, then A equals X plus Yplus Z. Work is X, Y is play, and Z is keeping yourmouth shut."

Even with something you do know about, something you have very definite opinions about, something you have every right to feel passionate about (I'm talking about your Dream, of course), it's good to be quiet about that with others, too.

"It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job," said Henry Moore. "It releases tension needed for his work." Keep the tension--the passion--within. Express it in deeds--in actions --not in words.

Keep attainments to yourself. ("Be smart, but never show it," advised Louis B. Mayer.) Keep problems to yourself as well. ("You can't tell your friend if you've been cuckolded." wrote Montaigne. "Even if he doesn't laugh at you, he may put the information to personal use.")

Pursue your dream. Follow your path.

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